DISCLAIMER: X-files and its characters are the property of Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Big thanks to the former and current maintainers of the Deep Background website. It was a big help in trying to figure out my timeline relative to that of the series. (see further notes on the timing of this piece at the end.) Feedback: Welcome, of course! To the list, or privately--makes no difference to me. (this has only been proofread twice by me, and not beta'd, so if you catch any obvious errors, feel free to point them out. A prequel, of sorts, to the Angst on a Shoestring series. For those that haven't read the two short installments posted previously (which are both archived on the Scullyslash website), it won't be necessary to read them in order to understand this one. Just consider this one pre-(Scully)slash, but it does reference a f/f relationship.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Angst on a Shoestring:
Comfort, No Joy [prequel]
By Susan P
"You should go. Be with your family."
"You came all the way to DC to see me. You need me, and I won't leave you. My family will understand." She tightened her grip on the woman in her arms. "Besides, you are a part of my 'family.' If--and only if--you feel up to it, we can put in a brief appearance at Mom's tomorrow."
"I came here because I couldn't bear to stay in that apartment."
She hadn't said, 'It's so empty without her,' but it all but screamed though the brief silence. It was written in the sag of her shoulders, her almost inaudible sigh.
"So," she continued, "how is Maggie?"
It was an obvious attempt to change the subject, but Scully decided to let it slide. She was more than a little worried about her old friend, but she didn't want to push too hard. When Ginger was ready, she would talk.
"She's fine. She asked about you--she's a little worried, I think. I'm a little worried, too." Ever since Ginger had arrived she'd been so quiet and unusually subdued. She was obviously depressed, which was understandable. But she seemed almost numb, and that was more troubling than Scully had been prepared for.
"I'm a little worried about myself. I was doing all right, you know. Not great, but okay. Ever since Thanksgiving, though, it's felt like I'm sleepwalking through my life. And the closer it got, the worse I got. The last couple of weeks... It started affecting my work. Luckily, most of my patients are doing pretty well, and only a couple of them have strong holiday-related anxieties. But, it became pretty clear that I was shortchanging them. I'd sit through a session and barely remember anything that happened during it. I finally had to admit that I needed some time away, and that they'd be better off with a substitute."
While she had no doubt that Ginger's concern over her patients and her work was genuine, it was obvious she was still avoiding the real issue. Scully reached for her glass and took a sip of wine, searching for a way to broach the subject.
Then Ginger did. "She loved Christmas. She was always more into it than I was, but her enthusiasm was contagious. She..." Her voice broke then, and she took a shuddering breath.
Scully tightened her arm around Ginger's waist, encouraging her to lean back into the embrace. She then reached up to stroke the other woman's cheek. "I know. I remember that Christmas I spent with you both."
Ginger actually laughed at the memory. "All those Christmas carols. You know, she actually changed the message on our answering machine--recorded a new one over 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
Scully couldn't help but laugh herself, "I remember. And all those cute little drawings she made on your Christmas cards..."
"Yeah. And that Christmas party!" She shook her head slightly. "She was just like a little kid. She always got up early Christmas morning. You know, she dragged me out of bed almost an hour-and-a-half before you got up that day?"
"I know. I heard you two stirring around that morning, though I tried to go back to sleep, believe me."
"I didn't mean it that way. I was just tired--I had a hard time winding down after the party. Besides, I thought you and Carol could use a little time to yourselves." She didn't mention the fact that she'd heard the soft sounds of their lovemaking the night before. And that, while it was sweet, and almost comforting, it had just made her all the more restless and unable to sleep that night. She'd lain curled up in bed, wide awake, and trying not to listen. Trying not to think about her own empty bed. She was glad Ginger had found someone, and she had come to love Carol as well. It was obvious that the love they shared was strong and enduring, and she couldn't help but be a little envious that night of what they shared. Something she had yet to find for herself.
Ginger had fallen silent again. But her breathing was becoming erratic. Maybe she was thinking of the same night. Scully just waited.
Then, Ginger shifted in her arms, turning toward her and resting her head against Scully's shoulder. Ginger's tears were warm and wet against her neck. "I miss her so much, Dana."
"I know, baby. I miss her, too." She could feel the tears begin to slip from her own eyes, as much from her own grief, as from her friend's.
She was gripped by a sense of deja vu. She'd comforted Ginger like this before. There had been so many telephone conversations over the course of Carol's illness. Ginger had shared so much of her pain and fear with her over those long months. She tried to be so strong in front of Carol, so she poured out all her pain and feelings of helplessness in those long conversations. Scully had always tried to be strong for Ginger, and for Carol when she spoke with her, but those phone calls had always left her shaken and weeping. She'd managed to visit during Carol's last hospital stay. The cancer had almost taken her then, but Carol had fought her way back, and the crisis had passed by the time she made the trip to see them both. She had helped Ginger make the arrangements that would transform the bedroom she shared with Carol into some semblance of a hospital room. She was there with Ginger when the hospital bed arrived. Ginger had spoken very little while the workmen set it up next to the twin bed that would be hers for the duration. Once the men had left, she just stared at the now-foreign landscape of her bedroom. She had broken down then, clinging to Scully and sobbing uncontrollably.
The next day, she had helped Ginger bring Carol home and get her settled in. She remembered what Carol had said to her that day, after maneuvering Ginger out of the apartment on some errand. "I used to be so sure that I'd beat this thing--that I'd win. But, it was close this time, and now I'm not so sure. Take care of her, Dana. She needs you, and she'll need you even more once I'm gone." Making that promise had been easy, she would have fulfilled it even without being asked.
But the enormity of her friend's grief was sometimes overwhelming, leaving her uncertain as to how best to care for Ginger. Those first few days after Carol died were a living hell. For both of them. Ginger managed to go through the motions, numbly and mechanically--making funeral arrangements, getting rid of the hospital equipment in their bedroom, calling friends and relatives. But when they were alone together, and she had no specific tasks to carry out, the facade crumbled. In those hours, she wept and clung to Scully as her lifeline. It had been so hard to see her like that--a gaping wound, in pain and beyond words. She was never sure what to do, or say, to try and help Ginger. She finally decided that simply being there would have to be enough. Leaving her to go back to work was one of the hardest things she'd ever done. She never told Mulder where she'd really been or why, she just told him she needed some time away. But she was sure he noticed that something wasn't right with her. He had looked like he might question her a couple of times, but she'd managed to deflect him enough that he finally seemed to give up on the idea. After she came back, he still didn't ask, and she couldn't bear to talk about it. She had yet to tell him.
She turned her attention back to Ginger, now quietly crying against her shoulder. She was gently stroking along her back: up, down, up, down. She realized she'd been doing it for some time, and the rhythm was so comforting, she wondered whether she was doing it more for Ginger, or for herself. Perhaps it didn't matter, since it seemed to quiet the other woman.
"She wouldn't want me to be like this." Her voice was quiet, and rough. She sniffled and shifted a little in Scully's embrace, but didn't pull away.
"No, she wouldn't. But I think she would understand. If it had been you, she would probably be the same way. There's no schedule for this, Ginger. It takes time. And she meant so much to you..." She stopped then, unsure whether that was a painful or a comforting reminder.
They fell into a comfortable silence--for perhaps the first time this visit. There had been so much left unsaid between them so far. They had both been through so much in the last two years. Her father's death. Her abduction. They hadn't talked about that much at all--there was so much about it she didn't remember, and what she did remember, she didn't want to talk about. Then there had been Mulder's almost-death, and Melissa's murder. Ginger had tried to be there for her then, as much as she was able. She'd come to Melissa's funeral, though she couldn't stay long. Carol had been too sick to make it, but she had insisted that Ginger make the trip to see her. Then Carol's death so soon after, and she was mourning the both of them, and trying to get Ginger through the worst of it. There had been so many awkward silences since then.
But this was an easy silence, and it felt like old times. She let her worry slip away and simply enjoyed the feeling of being with her old friend. And it felt good to be able to take care of her. Ginger seemed a little calmer now, and it felt good to just sit there, holding her.
"She would be glad that I'm here with you. She loved you, you know."
"I know. I loved her, too," Scully smiled.
"Do you think she knows?"
"I'm certain of it." Carol's words echoed in her mind: Take care of her, she needs you.
"Hm. I like that idea." She looked up suddenly. Her eyes were red and swollen, but free of tears. "Hey, what time is it?"
Scully wore a watch, but that arm was draped across Ginger's shoulder and she found she didn't want to move it so she glanced over to the nearest clock. "It's 12:15." She smiled down at her friend and brushed a few dark hairs from her temple. "Merry Christmas."
Ginger smiled back. "Merry Christmas, Dana."
"Merry Christmas, Carol." They had whispered it together, then looked at one another in surprise for a moment. But it seemed so...appropriate somehow, there was no need to comment on it.
Ginger snuggled into her shoulder, trying to hide a yawn, unsuccessfully. "Mm. I'm tired."
"Then let's go to bed."
She shook her head and mumbled a negation. "That would require moving."
"Well, if you don't want to get up, we should at least lie down and stretch out here on the sofa. If we fall asleep in this position, we'll regret it in the morning." Without waiting for an answer, she began trying to shift downward.
Ginger smiled. "It's already morning." But she cooperated, helping to untangle their legs and following Scully's body to stretch out alongside, facing her.
She reached over to cup Scully's face and placed a soft kiss on her lips. She looked at Scully another moment before murmuring, "Thank you." Then she turned over on her other side and snuggled back into the warmth of her friend's body, using Scully's left arm as a pillow and pulling her right arm across her belly.
The kiss had stunned her into silence for a few moments. Not the kiss itself. They often kissed hello or goodbye, sometimes on the lips, sometimes the cheek. But, her own reaction caught her by surprise. There was something in the way Ginger had looked at her--the simple need in her eyes--and the tone of her voice when she spoke. It touched something in her. Something she'd forgotten, or denied, or never knew was there. And it warmed her inside. Her lips seemed to tingle, remembering the contact, and she was glad when Ginger had wrapped them both into an embrace. The heat, and the weight, against her were comforting.
Then she realized what Ginger had said. "What was that for?"
"Hmm?" Her voice was already sleepy.
"The 'thank you,'" she prodded.
Ginger slid her hand over the back of Scully's, lacing their fingers together, and held her hand out, away from their bodies. She then brought her other hand up to hold Scully's hand between them. "For being here. For being real, and solid, and available, and here. I needed to see you, I think." She then wrapped Scully's arm around them both again, holding it to her. "And, for holding me, for listening, for not pushing."
Scully blushed, and leaned forward to kiss her friend's hair. "Oh. You're welcome."
She waited until Ginger's breathing became slow and regular before adding, in a whisper, "Thank you for needing me." She felt no stirrings from the woman in her arms, so she took a chance and craned her neck to look at the clock again. 12:35. A little late, but she decided to risk it. She managed to extract her arm from Ginger's waist without disturbing her and just barely reached the phone. She slowly and carefully dialed the number and placed the receiver to her ear.
"Hi, Mom. Did I wake you?" She spoke quietly so as not to disturb Ginger.
"No, dear. Charlie just left with his stash of presents for the kids."
She smiled into the phone. "How's he doing?"
"Oh, he's fine. Are you all right, Dana? You sound tired."
"I am, a little. I'm just trying not to wake Ginger. She's asleep."
"Good. How is she?"
"Okay, I think. I was pretty worried about her at first. But we talked a little, and I think it helped. She seemed a little better, afterward. She's really missing Carol, though."
"I'm sure she is. The first Christmas after your father died was very hard on me. I missed him so much then. I still do, of course. And Melissa."
"I know, Mom. That's why I called. I miss them both, too. Melissa and I were just getting close again, when..." she stopped before the tears could start.
" I know, baby." There was a slight pause then, before she added, "Do you think Ginger will feel up to coming by tomorrow afternoon? You know she's welcome."
"I don't know. I mentioned it to her, but she didn't say anything."
"Well, maybe she doesn't feel like being around a lot of people. I'm going to go by Charlie's early tomorrow to watch the kids open their presents. I think seeing it all through their eyes will help me get in the spirit. How about I come by after I leave Charlie's? I can drop off your presents, and take any you want to send back with me. If Ginger seems up to it, I can stay for coffee and visit for a few minutes. If not, I'll leave earlier. That way, I'll get to see you both, and she won't feel pressured to come by just for your sake. You can stay with her, and I'll make your excuses to the family."
"That sounds like a good idea. I think she would like to see you, Mom. She asked about you. And, give everyone my love when you see them."
"I will, dear. I think they'll understand."
"Mom, are you sure you're okay with this?"
"I'll be fine, Dana. There will be plenty of family around to look after me. Take care of your friend. She needs all the love and support you can give her now."
"Thank you for understanding."
"That's all right. Get some sleep, Dana. Merry Christmas."
"I love you, Mom. Merry Christmas. See you in the morning."
She carefully placed the phone back in its cradle, then settled back down to hold her sleeping friend. She let herself become hypnotized by the rhythm of Ginger's breathing and enjoyed feeling the warmth from her body. As she drifted toward sleep she wondered: Is this how she and Carol slept every night? Is this how it feels?
And she began to feel as though she now knew something she had been missing.
[One further timeline note: Based on my perusal of the Deep Background archive, Wm Scully died right around the holidays--just after Christmas '93 or around New Years, '94. Scully herself was abducted in early August, and returned sometime in early November of that year. I'm placing Carol's death in May or June of 1995, since the events of "Paper Clip" end in late April, and the events in "2Shy" take place sometime in August, with the events of "DPO" after that, in September. It seemed plausible that Scully might be able to take some time off during those months. Ginger's visit begins in late December 1995, probably not before the 23rd.]
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